With just a few days left to set your roster, we spoke with ESPN fantasy baseball expert Eric Karabell about his projections for some of the Orioles' key players heading into the season.
Baltimore Sun: Which Chris Davis will we see this season? Will he be the guy who hit .315 and 37 homers in the first half of last season, or who hit .245 and 16 homers in the second half?
Eric Karabell: I think it’s somewhere in between that. I mean, he obviously has great power and takes enough walks for his batting average that it shouldn’t be a problem long term. However, asking him to hit even .286 again for an entire season is asking a little too much. I expect more like .270, but when there are only a couple of guys hitting 40 home runs, he’s still an elite fantasy option and definitely a top-10 guy overall.
Who has more value, Davis or Adam Jones?
I have Adam Jones ranked in the second round. It’s nice to have guys who can hit for power and steal bases. Adam Jones is not a very patient hitter, and at some point I worry about his batting average falling as well. But he’s been able to hit at least .280 most seasons. Overall, these are the best two options the Orioles have. They go in the top-20, both of them. I would prefer Davis because I don’t think there’s a lot of power in fantasy this season. Again, there’s not too many guys we can project to hit even 35 home runs. Jones is a safe option, but I’d prefer Davis.
Do you think Nick Markakis' numbers will continue declining, or is there a chance he returns to previous form?
He used to be a very good fantasy option. A little bit of power, a little bit of speed and a lot of durability, and then he just stopped hitting for power. I mean the last time this guy hit 20 home runs was back in 2008. He’s no longer a factor in stealing bases. So he’s really not much of a fantasy option at all this point, which is a shame. He used to be a top-50 guy, now he’s not even going in the top-200 overall in drafts. People really aren’t drafting him at all. I don’t expect to see him hit more than 15 home runs, steal any bases that matter or hit over .280.
After Manny Machado returns from the disabled list, is he a guy who can have a breakout season or does he need more time to develop?
He scares me a little bit for this year. There’s looming power there. Everything in his swing and the way he’s developed tells us that he’ll hit 20 or 25 home runs soon. I don’t think we can expect it for this year, not quite yet. But he makes enough contact. I think he’s more like a 15-20 home run guy this year. He’s being drafted around the top-100 overall. He hits a lot of doubles, and generally, when a young player hits a lot of doubles, they’ll turn into home runs in time.
But asking him to do that this year after pretty much a lost offseason, is asking a lot. He’s probably a little overrated for fantasy this year, but in two years, he’s going to be a monster in fantasy.
Does Ubaldo Jimenez’s move to Baltimore have any impact on his fantasy value?
Not really. He’s a guy I won’t go near in fantasy leagues because the potential for a bad ERA and a bad WHIP are there. Obviously, he’s a major strikeout guy. But moving from Cleveland to Baltimore shouldn’t effect his numbers all that much.
Last season, his second half was tremendous. But his first half was terrible. So which guy are you gonna get? I think it’s a huge risk to take him among your top-5 starting pitchers. So he’s out of my top-50 starting pitchers.
Can Chris Tillman develop into a legitimate ace this season?
He’s projectable. He has enough strikeouts to matter and he’s certainly safer than Ubaldo Jimenez. He should have a lower WHIP and a better ERA even if he strikes out fewer guys. I’d rather have Tillman than Jimenez in every one of my leagues. I don’t think Tillman is going to be an ace for fantasy. I don’t think he’s going to be a top-30 starting pitcher. But he’s a fly ball pitcher who carries a low batting average on balls in play. So what he did last year was representative of what he can do going forward.
With the departure of Jim Johnson, do you think Tommy Hunter is a smart late-round pickup?
No. I find it hard to believe that either Tommy Hunter or Darren O’Day are capable of getting a lot f saves, unless the manager just isn’t paying attention to the fact that they can not retire left-handed hitters. Closers, the one thing they have to do, is be able to get lefties and righties out and Hunter hasn’t shown the ability to do that. Now, he could change this year, maybe learn a new pitch. But it’s unlikely to me that he’s going to be able to be their closer for all six months. I don’t know if their end of season closer is actually on their roster right now. Because the way left handed batters hit Hunter last year, I don’t think it’s going to go well. He’s going to blow more saves than Jim Johnson.
With Matt Wieters’ batting average and OPS declining each of the last three seasons, is it still fair to project him as a top catcher?
His percentage of home runs per fly ball keeps dropping. And he’s striking out a lot. So I don’t know why he would hit .260 in a season anymore. I think it’s tough to ask that from him. But very few catchers hit 20 home runs every year, and he does that. I think people should stop worrying about the potential of what he can do, and enjoy what he’s actually doing. He’s a top-10 catcher, late top-10. You can get him late in your draft, but I no longer expect him to be a top-3 catcher in fantasy.
Is there anyone else we haven’t mentioned who is worth taking a look at?
Nelson Cruz is going later in drafts than he should. I mean, even leaving Texas, this is a guy who should hit around 25 home runs and hit around .260. He’s not the most durable guy, but power is in demand. Also, J.J. Hardy is one of the few middle infielders who hits 25 home runs every season and he should do it again. They’re both a little undervalued, Hardy and Cruz.